To Robinson Jeffers – Czeslaw Milosz


To Robinson Jeffers


If you have not read the Slavic poets

so much the better. There’s nothing there

for a Scotch-Irish wanderer to seek. They lived in a childhood

prolonged from age to age. For them, the sun

was a farmer’s ruddy face, the moon peeped through a cloud

and the Milky Way gladdened them like a birch-lined road.

They longed for the Kingdom which is always near,

always right at hand. Then, under apple trees

angels in homespun linen will come parting the boughs

and at the white kolkhoz tablecloth

cordiality and affection will feast (falling to the ground at times).


And you are from surf-rattled skerries. From the heaths

where burying a warrior they broke his bones

so he could not haunt the living. From the sea night

which your forefathers pulled over themselves, without a word.

Above your head no face, neither the sun’s nor the moon’s,

only the throbbing of galaxies, the immutable

violence of new beginnings, of new destruction.


All your life listening to the ocean. Black dinosaurs

wade where a purple zone of phosphorescent weeds

rises and falls on the waves as in a dream. And Agamemnon

sails the boiling deep to the steps of the palace

to have his blood gush onto marble. Till mankind passes

and the pure and stony earth is pounded by the ocean.


Thin-lipped, blue-eyed, without grace or hope,

before God the Terrible, body of the world.

Prayers are not heard. Basalt and granite.

Above them, a bird of prey. The only beauty.


What have I to do with you? From footpaths in the orchards,

from an untaught choir and shimmers of a monstrance,

from flower beds of rue, hills by the rivers, books

in which a zealous Lithuanian announced brotherhood, I come.

Oh, consolations of mortals, futile creeds.


And yet you did not know what I know. The earth teaches

More than does the nakedness of elements. No one with impunity

gives to himself the eyes of a god. So brave, in a void,

you offered sacrifices to demons: there were Wotan and Thor,

the screech of Erinyes in the air, the terror of dogs

when Hekate with her retinue of the dead draws near.


Better to carve suns and moons on the joints of crosses

as was done in my district. To birches and firs

give feminine names. To implore protection

against the mute and treacherous might

than to proclaim, as you did, an inhuman thing.


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